November 29, 2012

The How and the Why

pinterest: the soldier's cross
I promised a third round of questions to be answered, and the month has nearly slipped by without me posting it!  But here you have another, and I believe the last, batch; if any of you sent in questions that have not been answered, send me an email and let me know.

Also, don't forget that the book giveaway ends tomorrow!  If you have not entered or written up a review of either The Soldier's Cross or The Shadow Things, hurry and do so before November is out.  We'll be announcing the winners next month.

And now, your questions answered.

writer4christ asked...

1. How do you develop your characters?

I write them. Honestly, that is the most helpful thing I have found for developing characters; much as I enjoy memes like Beautiful People for learning things about these people, I really don’t get to know the people themselves until I’ve spent a good 50,000 words with them. Even now, despite all the planning I’ve done for writing Tempus Regina in November, I wouldn’t say I know my characters. By the end of the story, then I should know them. But I’ve got to plug away at Regina’s side, seeing her struggles and her thoughts and her words, to the finish line before I can say I know even a little inkling of who she is—just as I had to plug away with Fiona, and Justin King, and Tip Brighton. They surprise me and, to argue in a rather circular fashion, that’s when I know they’re developed.

2. Do you ever want to write longer books (like 200 page-300 pages and/or longer)?

As a matter of fact, my stories are pretty long already by industry standards (not by the standards of a Dickens or a Dumas, but alas, we don’t live in the 19th Century anymore!). The Soldier’s Cross, since it was a debut novel, is pretty small at 92,000 words. The entirety of The White Sail’s Shaking came in at a whopping 185,000, or thereabouts, and I’ve been obliged to split it for easier digestion. As it is technically one story, however, I still count it as an 185k story. Who knows how long Tempus Regina will be? I’m trying not to think about it.

I like large books. As Jane Austen wrote—in one of her incomplete works, I think: “But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” It would even seem that my brain produces large books. Perhaps one of these days I’ll produce a tome to rival the bulk of Les Miserables!

3. What is your favorite Charles Dickens novel? Have you read Bleak House?

It’s difficult to pick a favourite work of a man so accomplished. I enjoyed Little Dorrit; I was caught up in the sorrow of Amy Dorrit’s life and in the tortured honour of a hero like Arthur Clennam. I was amazed, too, at Dickens’ skill at bringing all the threads together to create a whole seamless story. However, I must give A Tale of Two Cities much credit for having made me bawl. I honestly had to go in search of a box of Kleenex when I shut the book on the last page. Who can not suffer with and respect a character like Sydney Carton? It made my heart ache, and though it was smaller than most of Dickens’ other works, I think it deserves its high position amid literature.

But I haven’t read Bleak House yet! It waits for me to be in the mood for something, well, bleak. I’ve heard it’s excellent and I really must get to it soon.

4. Why do you write?

I write because I can’t not. I write because of my love for the characters, and the worlds and stories of the characters, in my mind. I write because if I didn’t, the stories would probably burst out like Athena from Zeus’ head. I write because I was made to create—as I believe everyone, because fashioned in God’s image, was made to create—and the medium I’ve been given is that of words. That’s why I write.

alex (goldenink) asked...

5. What was it that got you into writing? 

I’m not one of those writers who has been scribbling from the earliest age, though I was always an uncritical admirer of my sister’s stories. When I was nine or ten, I didn’t have any real hobbies and was most disgruntled about it. I wanted to draw and couldn’t, wasn’t in love with violin enough to pursue it, and wanted very much to write. So I began, and though it was a very rocky beginning, I’m glad I did.

6. What inspired the story behind The Soldier's Cross

The story was mostly inspired by a snapshot image of a young woman in a sanctuary, holding a silver cross pendant. It had absolutely no relation to anything else, but it developed quickly after that first thought. I’m sure there was pain in the process, but fortunately I’ve forgotten it now!

7. Who was your favorite character in the book, and why? 

It is a little difficult to answer this, as I am torn between David, with whom Fiona has perhaps five run-ins all told, and Pierre, the young Lord of Gallandon. David was always a breeze to write; he was so brusque and his kindness so harsh. But Pierre had more character, simply because he was present more often, and I knew him best. I liked discovering his strengths and weaknesses and watching his personality develop. And, too—but that would be telling. Anyhow, I think I can say Pierre is my favorite.

8. What is your current writing project, and how is it progressing so far? 

I’m currently writing what someone recently termed a “fantasy-esque” novel called Tempus Regina: taking it through NaNo, in fact. It is something like a historical fantasy, because, while it deals with time travel, dragons, and all that good stuff, it also deals heavily with two legendary points in history. The story is still young and I have not properly “gotten into” it, but I am enjoying it and having fun with the characters. And the research. Really fun, outlandish research.

9. What hopes do you have for writing? 

Ah, this question sinks deep! I think (if I must be honest) that while I strive to write to honor God and for my personal enjoyment, I do have a number of “hopes” for what my writing will accomplish. I hope my writing expands my mind and my spirit. I hope my books find their way into the hearts of readers and inspire love, and many gleeful, inarticulate sentences. There are many things I hope for, and it can be difficult to keep that “rare jewel of Christian contentment” while still laboring to better my work.

10. Do you have any advice for beginning writers? 

If you’re just beginning to write, do your very best to ignore the host of writing tips and blogs and books out there and just write. If you focus too heavily and too early on “getting it right,” you run the great risk of losing the heart and soul of writing and turning it into a mere mechanical process.  

11. Do you have any advice for those writers who are about ready to begin their journey into the world of publishing? 

Think about what you’re doing, and don’t opt for one path simply because it appears easier. In my most recent (and controversial!) post I sought to encourage writers not to take anything for granted, and to question the things around them: even something as apparently fundamental as the Christian publishing industry. As believers, we should be marked for the thought we give and the wisdom we apply to everything we set our hand to do.


  1. I shall advise you that Bleak House is anything but bleak in reality.... :)

  2. I was going to comment and say exactly what Rachel said, and then I saw her comment and had myself a good hearty laugh. But she is quite right-- Bleak House is ironically named. Really, it is. There are sad bits but there are glad bits too, and I think the glad outweighs the sad. Prepare to become very good friends with the heroine, Esther, and prepare for a host of characters that you will both love and hate. And I mean loving and hating the same character. :D

  3. Good questions, good answers!
    Yes, far too many writers spend time READING about writing instead of just - duh - writing. Although, I must admit, those books CAN be helpful. I ate them at age fifteen, and wrote only a couple stories, but am glad I did. I no longer read them, but the knowledge I gained from them has certainly helped. But surely write away!
    Now I must read Dickens. I am fond of classics...The Grapes of Wrath would be a good book if they could take out the swear words and heaps of crudeness. Too many good ones though. :)


  4. Writing because you can not not write. 8-) Yes, that is a very good reason. (I believe most of the reason an author writes is because of the characters as well. They just won't let us be until we tell their story.)
    I am VERY eager to start your book!

  5. Oh, and I do the same thing on characters. I never think, expand, or character sketch them before hand like the books and some writers do. Everyone has a different way. For me, I get an idea, they develop a personality on their own and take over.


  6. Rachel & Miss Dashwood - Although I have seen and very much enjoyed the newer adaptation (2005, I believe) of Bleak House, I fear my perception of the novel is still coloured, or not coloured, by the badly done, darkly lit adaptation we tried to watch before that one. It's hard to shake! But I definitely intend to read it in the not distant future; it sits on my shelf at the moment, and wars with Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations over the right to be read first. Too much Dickens...!

    Becca - I do agree that such books can be helpful, especially further along in one's writing, when too much fertilizer is less likely to kill the plant. But early on, when a writer is just venturing out, all of those dos and don'ts can stunt the growth of their writing. There's a sense in which we each have to make our own way in the craft before imbibing a great deal of advice.

    I'm not as acquainted with American classics as with European, and especially British, classics, mostly for the reason you mentioned. Perhaps because American classics are so much younger, they tend to be much more open with the immoral content. Steinbeck is one of those authors I've been avoiding!

    Jack - Isn't that the truth? Though my characters won't let me be even after I've told their story! Because, really, it's always only a very small part of their story that I'm telling. There's so much more to them than what gets written. But then, perhaps that is the mark of a real and personal character.

    I hope you enjoy The Soldier's Cross!

  7. Very much agreed!
    Yes, I will never recommend his books. I was disgusted at some of his vulgar writing - they call it realism - and wish I had the sense to stop reading but didn't at the time. If all the garbage was cut out, it was a rather heart breaking story and could have been very well written.


  8. Yes, these were all great questions and answers, Abigail! I have one book on writing Christian Fiction - A Novel Idea. Then I have one book on editing (which was not written by a Christian stand-point), and although they had some good points, there was a lot of trash in it. Yes, reading too much on the craft of writing can stunt your stories. But it can also enhance them!

    Has anyone had the chance or opportunity to read Isabella Macdonald Alden's books? I highly recommend them - entirely wholesome, encouraging, helpful, and a joy to read. They're available from Mrs. Alden was a very famous author in her time. :-)

    A fellow writer,

  9. Thanks for your answers! I enjoyed reading the one about the characters. It's helpful and encouraging to me because it's hard for me to know if my characters are real enough or not. And by the way, I only have two thousand more words to write in my story and I'm done with NANOWRIMO!!

  10. I own A Novel Idea as well. Very insightful - but my favorite part is when they talk about the importance Christian fiction can have on the world. Sometimes I feel as if I should be doing something more important - but they talk about how Jesus spoke in story (parables) and touched people's hearts that way. Never thought of it!

    I have had the opportunity to read one of her books, Patience. I read the one about Esther Reid. Her writing was very good, and her stories had a deep message. Definitely someone I like reading!


  11. I have enjoyed from a distance the repartee of the past several blog topics, but at the risk of stepping over a line, I must say that carrying on a separate conversation on someone's blog is bad form. Each person's blog post is a proprietary submission of an ides or ideas, for others to discuss - agree - or oppose. They are not conduits for third party communications. Please use email for that.

  12. Thank you, Anonymous. We both felt the same way, which is why we closed out the previous conversation as soon as we could. We were kind of stuck as of how to communicate, as lack of email on one part.
    As to the author and the book A Novel Idea, the girl asked, as people do ask questions in comment boxes. Anyone can comment, I was furthering a conversation with everyone, branching off topics of Abigail's.

    Sorry if it was any offense, Abby. :)


  13. Hi Abigail!
    I'm a fellow writer, and I've enjoyed your month of posts celebrating A Soldier's Cross. I would dearly like to read your book someday! :)

    I had come to the same conclusion that you have in question #10--young writers should rarely read writer's blogs. They're a place of lurking discouragement, and should only be attempted when one knows that it's okay to reject advice if it's not helpful. I've gone to two writer's conferences, which were much more encouraging overall--people are there to help you, not just to teach you. :)

    Great thoughts!

  14. Agreed, Becca. I'm sorry to all those who found it offensive. I just get excited when I meet like-minded writers - I don't have a blog of my own, you know. I'm waiting till after I graduate. My comment on this post was directed to everyone - not just one particular person. I'm sorry, Abigail, if it was offensive as well heretofore.

    I'm with you on that part, Lady Bibliophile. I've heard of discouragement in those parts.

    Becca, I've read Ester Reid, too - wonderful book! :-)

    A Fellow Writer,


  15. Patience - I appreciate much of what I've read (primarily in the blogosphere; the only writing book I own is Strunk & White!) regarding the rules of writing. It is informative and gives me loose guidelines to follow, or to acknowledge. At the very least, it's interesting to see how much more cemented our "rules" are than those of writers in previous generations!

    Writer - If it's any consolation, my characters tend to take quite a while to develop. The beginning of a story is always hard, because I'm just starting to test the ground of my characters' thoughts. I much prefer writing middles and ends. And congratulations on NaNo, by the bye! That's such a good feeling.

    Lady Bibliophile - Welcome to Scribbles! I'm glad you enjoyed the blog party - and I hope you'll enjoy The Soldier's Cross itself when you get a chance to read it.

    Much as I appreciate the tips I gather here and there, I do agree with you: the danger of depression and a belief in a single right way to spin a novel is ever-present. I'm very glad I didn't discover blogs until later on in my writing (even if my earlier attempts were rubbish and in need of help).

    To all and sundry - It does help keep the blog stream-lined, neat, and on-topic when the comments don't run away from the purpose of the post. I do realize the trouble with coordinating email addresses and the like, and I don't mean to put a lid on discussion; it's just not very nice for the author or other readers (on Scribbles and on other blogs as well) when a lengthy off-topic conversation takes over. That's all!


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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